Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

Holy Hole, Batman

The short version is, a sinkhole opened up in my back yard. More disturbing, it was only a few feet from the side of my house.
Not to worry, though—it was just a small sinkhole. At least, until I got too close and my foot went through, making it a slightly larger small sinkhole.
"Dude, I had nothing to do with this."

There are two things you can do at a time like this: Fill it in, or dig it out. Why dig it out? Why, to find out why, and what; it’s called curiosity, people. Get some.

Also, there’s the fact that I still have a pile of broken brick bits from when I demolished my chimney, which actually stood about ten feet away. So I had a pile of something I needed to get rid of … and a hole. But what was the hole? Cue me, with a shovel.

The hole, I now believe, was a cesspit. That’s a temporary collection tank that looks similar to a well, except you do not want to dip a bucket into it. It’s designed to collect … um … stuff, from a home’s plumbing. When I was a kid, my dad had to periodically empty one at our rural home; it was about the same distance from that house, and also near the back door. Often they’re not sealed at the bottom, allowing liquid to eventually leach downward, while the … er … solid would build up and occasionally have to be emptied. Emptying is not fun.

In addition to being the right location and size, it was lined with concrete except for a layer of bricks near the top, and I could see where a pipe once entered it from the direction of the house.
Oh, crap.

And you thought all the cesspits had moved to Washington, D.C.

On a related note, the home’s original outhouse (according to an old fire insurance map) was directly behind our garage, which was a carriage house at the time. The cesspit was further south, and the present sewer line further south still. The guy who dug up the sewer line to replace it missed the cesspit by maybe five feet ... talk about hitting a pothole.

Here’s my theory: Sometime in the past—decades ago—someone filled in the cesspit when they installed indoor plumbing (which they did badly, but that’s another story). Over the years a layer of grass, tree, and bush roots grew over it, but underneath the fill dirt began to settle, causing a cavity. Guess it should have flossed. The impact of me throwing all those bricks down when I demolished the chimney weakened it, which just goes to show how my home maintenance jobs turn into a sitcom-like string of unintended consequences.

This is what happens when I hang upside down to take a photo inside a cesspool. That's the fill dirt on the bottom, and for perspective you can make out a spider on the concrete wall. What it was eating down there, I have no idea.

Out of curiosity—and to free up room for the bitty brick bits—we began shoveling out what turned out to be heavy, wet, mostly clay fill. Yes, sometimes items are found in cases like this. There’s a whole science behind researching the contents of old outhouses, and garbology is the study of modern garbage; the phrase was coined by a guy going through Bob Dylan’s trash. I didn’t expect to find anything valuable, but I did expect to find something, such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle we found buried in the old back yard sandbox.

A toy. Not a real turtle. Sheesh.

The thingy from the hole. Which, ironically, is the title of my new book.

First came a flowerpot, potting soil still inside. It was plastic, which dates the fill period to … sometime after they started making plastic flowerpots. Then came a really interesting item: Kind of a spool, possibly ceramic, with a hole through the middle. I’m thinking it’s a hollow ceramic spool. I’d guess it’s manufactured by a company called Superior, based on its markings, which say “Superior”.

Call me Sherlock.

(After writing that, I sat down to do some research, code-named “Google”. It appears to be a ceramic insulator bushing spacer. I was so close! And get this: I found those things on sale on Etsy for seven and a half bucks. “Vintage Home Décor”, they call it.)

Now I just have to decide if I want to shovel out any more of that cesspit, which was more fun than watching politics on TV but all-too-similar. Maybe, as in politics, there's free stuff down there that was actually paid for by someone else.

Or maybe I can just keep digging, and start a survivalist bunker. That would fit the theme of everything going into the crapper.

The hole's covered on the left, with my new dirt pile on the right. Off to the far right you can see my "new" flowerpot.
Tags: home improvement, home maintenance, plumbing, sinkholes

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